46 days of hunger strike: Sentsov still in prison, football show must go on

Oleg Sentsov: svoboda.org

The Ukrainian film director is struggling for his life and dignity in Russian prison. He refuses to ask Putin for pardon and let the football feast steal the drama of political prisoners.

On May 14, Oleg Sentsov, who got a 20-year prison term in Russia, went on hunger strike in the penal colony White Bear in Yamal-Nenets region. He is protesting against unjust sentences and imprisonment of several dozen Ukrainian-born political prisoners in Russian jails. His health condition is deteriorating hour after hour. He, who has already lost 13 kg, is currently in the colony infirmary. According to prison doctors, his kidneys and heart are in bad shape, which is the reason for their recommending forced feeding. Putin wants Sentsov to file a petition for pardon and confess to planning a terrorist attack in Crimea. But it is a no-go for Sentsov who continues his hunger strike.

Last chance mission

The Kremlin’s human rights representative Tatiana Moskalkova came to Kyiv on June, 26. In turn, Lyudmila Denisova, Commissioner for Human Rights in Ukraine, arrived in Moscow. Moskalkova was to meet the Russian seamen arrested in Ukraine and a military officer arrested on suspicion of treason. Denisova was going to visit Sentsov and other Ukrainian prisoners in Russia. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities failed to give their consent to the meetings and even to a videoconference with Sentsov. The both commissioners exchanged seething letters and blamed each other for the unwillingness to cooperate. Moskalkova said that Sentsov kept refusing to consult a doctor and did harm to himself. In a letter to Denisova, she wrote that Sentsov ‘looks pretty well’. According to her, Sentsov has Russian citizenship (as a resident of annexed Crimea, he got it by default), and therefore, the trial of him is Russia’s internal affair.

Tatiana Moskalkova (L) and Lyudmiła Denisova. Photo: svoboda.org

The mission of the two officials was the result of last week’s telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko. Both presidents cautiously declared their will to cooperate. However, now the situation seems to be lose-lose.

“Russia is lingering. it sounds a dreadful thing to say, but they expect that Sentsov will survive at least the group stage of the World Cup. They also can start force-feeding,” Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov said.

The Kremlin is not eager to show mercy even during the World Cup. They prefer to play a waiting game and sweep the case under the carpet. the matter. In addition, the fate of the dying person is apparently disappearing in the flood of reports of a joyful and open Russia, the host of the football festival.

Foul play

Shortly after the start of the World Cup, Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Vladimir Putin was aware of the world’s cultural community’s asking for the release of Sentsov.

“But Putin cannot do anything, because there is a rule of law in Russia and only a convicted person can write a petition for pardon,” Peskov added.

It means that the film director has to admit guilt and ask Putin for being released. Meanwhile, he is dying precisely because he insists on being innocent.

“The Kremlin will never admit that they captured and sentenced a Ukrainian citizen by mistake, but they will try to make Sentsov confess so that they could use it in their propaganda against Ukraine. Moreover, in order to hit Poroshenko, the Kremlin is attempting to play this card in the Ukrainian territory,” Portnikov added.

A few days ago, during the OSCE conference in Kyiv, a man in a military uniform stood up and said that it was him who had personally transported and handed over explosives to Sentsov in Crimea. He added that no one would sentenced a person to 20 years in prison for nothing; according to him, Sentsov did intend to commit a terrorist attack in Crimea, for which he was later convicted by Russians. He also said that Sentsov was an unwanted person for Ukrainian authorities which were not doing much to free him.

The Ukrainian media identified the speaker. His name is Sergei Sterikov, a volunteer helping the Ukrainian army in Donbas war, who is better known under the alias Ivan Sirko. A number of Ukrainian journalists claim that he is a provocateur or at least an untrustworthy person. In any case, Sterikov’s revelations were immediately caught up by Kremlin mouthpieces. The ‘news’ has already made headlines: ‘Sentsov Not Director, But Terrorist’ .

Not to spoil the show

On June 26, a 1.5-metre high ball appeared in Moscow’s Nikolskaya street which is very popular among foreign fans. The ball was wrapped with barbed wire and had the inscription Free Sentsov. Before being removed by the police, it drew people’s attention: passers-by took selfies in front of it and then posted photos on social media. was an attraction among the supporters of Nikolska, who took pictures with her and threw them on social networks. Most of them thought it was one of the mascots of the World Cup. However, it was the only one (and very shy) voice in support of the Ukrainian film director who is hungerstriking in the penal colony beyond the Polar Circle. The action was held by the representatives of the Open Russia opposition movement.

Photo: openrussia.org

Apart from that, the organisers of the championship have not faced any solidarity rallies by the moment. But there might be some disappointment for the Kremlin. On June, 28 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is to debate on the Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia. To show the crimes behind the façade of the joyous World Cup to the world, Sentsov risks his own life. Extending the hunger is also buying time. As Putin wants to hush up the case and force Sentsov to incriminate himself and ask for mercy, so the Ukrainian director wants to call the world’s attention to the issue.

Michał Kacewicz/MS, belsat.eu